How to Avoid Going Stale

shutterstock_715385524There are many reasons an actor might start to feel “stale” in a role. Long runs, repetitive days on set, lack of feedback, or good old-fashioned insecurity are just a few of the many common triggers. It’s a horrible feeling. You suddenly feel disconnected with the character, the audience, yourself. If left unchecked, staleness can spiral into a distrust of the process, the director, and worst of all, your own instincts. Here are a few strategies that might help when you fall into a rut with a character.

 

  1. Identify the Cause. First, you have to figure out what is causing you to feel stale. Is general low morale getting under your skin? Are you feeling overlooked by the director? Is it the fourth week of your run or the 20th take in a row and you’re starting to feel like you’re phoning it in? It helps to track your habits as an actor. For example, I know when I find success early in a rehearsal process and stop getting any feedback from a director, I tend to go through a period of increased experimentation that can lead to overworking, or getting off track. Reminding myself that sometimes a lack of feedback comes from solid work, and revisiting the heart of the text helps me ground myself.
  2. Stabilize Your Mental State. Once you figure out what’s making you feel stale, it’s time to right the rocking boat. Trust your training and your instincts. If you’re not getting external reassurance, you need to do it for yourself. Employ whatever self-care you need to get back into a state of relaxed focus. Yoga and exercise are my go-tos for getting out of my head and back in my body, but find what works for you. Meditation, time with friends or other artistic pursuits are great to. Find a way to reset mentally.
  3. Shake Up Your Prep Work. When you’re not feeling present, try introducing new sensory stimuli to your prep work. Music is my favorite, but and an easily accessible one, but there are so many options out there. Try revisiting or improvising the scene in a new environment, in conjunction with dance or physical activity. Maybe write a journal entry as your character, or do some character-related object work. If nothing else, go out and seek inspiration from performances and art that inspires you. Jog your senses back into a receptive place.
  4. Revisit Your Objectives. Go back to the text. Go back to the work. It’s time to simplify and declutter your brain. Revisit your objectives and the action of the scene. Sometimes the process of adding more and more can distract us from playing in the moment, and lead to feeling disconnected. Assess. Are you trying to play the emotional state instead of the action? Are you letting the arc of the play muddy up the arc of the scene? Shake it all off and do your job in the present beat. Reconnecting to the scene can help restart your connection to your character.
  5. Find Something New. If your objectives are solid and sensory inspiration isn’t doing it for you, try to find something new in the scene itself. This is a good time to talk to your scene partner and explore. Don’t surprise them, or the director with brand new changes to the scene. But seek some collaboration, or find a new goal for yourself. Sometimes just looking at the same scene from a new perspective is all it takes.

 

Feeling stale now and then is not the end of the world. It is a natural and recurring part of the artistic process. Instead of letting it feel like a failure, see it as an opportunity to grow and enrich your work. It is a sign you are ready to dig deeper, get more specific, rejuvenate and layer in subtlety. It is an invitation to expand. Let it excite you.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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